Behind the Shot: Stories About the 2017 Winning Photos

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More than 2,000 people entered National Park Trips Media's annual photo contest this year, and choosing the winners was harder than ever. We gave three grand prizes—high-quality Tamron lenses—and 48 honorable mentions.

The three winners, Roger Twilley, Matt Meisenheimer, and Tony Prince, are all hobbyists—none is a professional photographer by trade—but their images were no accidents. They travel to national parks as often as possible for photography, and they spend countless hours each year honing their craft. We asked them to give us a behind-the-scenes look at how they captured these stunning photos.

Grand Prize Night Skies Photography

Joshua Tree National Park - The Milky Way rises boldly over Arch Rock by Tony Prince

Joshua Tree National Park - The Milky Way rises boldly over Arch Rock

Tony Prince, 59, of Yucca Valley, California, has loved astronomy and photography since being an aid for classes in both subjects in school. He’s now an insurance agent and has taken a few workshops over the years, including one of our night sky workshops in Zion National Park. He spent weeks waiting for the perfect night to shoot the Milky Way from Joshua Tree National Park.

“If it’s humid out or there are even some light clouds, the lights will get picked up from the cities and, boom, the stars will disappear,” Prince says. “It has to be crystal clear to get a picture like this.”

So Prince monitored atmospheric conditions daily and jumped at the chance to go out on perfectly clear night. He aimed a light on some rocks behind him, so it would bounce back at the sky rather than painting rock features in front of the camera, and he took 18 frames with a wide-angle lens. He stitched them together to create a panorama of the Milky Way.

“There’s no wide-angle lens that will get it all,” he says.

He recently moved within a few miles of Joshua Tree so he could go more often, and he visits constantly. He loves how the trees are as unique as snowflakes.

“I just love the Southwest’s deserts and canyons and super clear skies, and I can’t get enough of it,” he says.

Grand Prize Landscape Photography

Olympic National Park - A beautiful night at Ruby Beach by Matt Meisenheimer

Olympic National Park - A beautiful night at Ruby Beach

Matt Meisenheimer, 27, of Janesville, Wis., shot his winning landscape photo at sunset from a cave on Ruby Beach in Olympic National Park last spring. He spent the first couple of days of his trip shooting in the rainforest and made this photo on his last night in the park. That afternoon, the sea and sky were covered by a marine layer. There was no texture, and Meisenheimer thought the evening would be a bust. But when a few distinct clouds appeared just in time for sunset, he sprinted over to a cave he had spotted when hiking earlier in the day.

“I was setting up in this cave and framed this arch and got some really awesome clouds and awesome light,” he says. But toward the end, he was taking Hail Mary shots. “It was hard to shoot in there because the tide was coming up. It’s really hard to shoot with saltwater, if it gets on your lens.”

He shot as many frames as he could as the tide rolled in, wiping salty spray off his lens in between each shot, and hoped for the best.

“I was pretty worried. I noticed that there was some condensation forming on the lens, and I also noticed that I was getting some salt that was building up and flaring. To overcome that, I adjusted my camera and kept drying my lens,” he says. “The light was awesome. I knew the light was going to be there, but I was pretty nervous at the time.”

Grand Prize Wildlife Photography

Lake Clark National Park - Brown Bear by Roger Twilley

Lake Clark National Park - Brown Bear

For Roger Twilley, 60, this image marks an experience of a lifetime. His father is the one who instilled a strong love and respect for nature in him and his brothers, and he passed away a few months before his trip. Twilley was moved to get to see a grizzly up-close.

He was on a guided photography tour, on which he’d won a spot in a Lowepro photo contest. The guides knew where to look for bears, and they watched from a safe distance as a mother grizzly rested with two cubs nearby. Everyone else on the trip was focused on the cubs, Twilley said, and he shot the grizzly just as she started to get up.

“Most people picture grizzly bears as mean, but she looked more at ease and relaxed,” Twilley says. “She didn’t care who was around. In the moment, it looked like she was enjoying everything around her.”

Twilley lives in Tulsa, Okla., and often photographs wildlife, including the bald eagles that live near him. There are about nine nests within a 30-minute drive of his house, he says. But this was the first time he had ever seen a grizzly out in the wild.

“It was unbelievable,” Twilley says. “I was so happy.”

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For more information about our photo contest and to enter for 2018, visit

Learn how to photograph the Night Skies with us by taking our online course. We have partnered with Tamron photographers Andre Costantini and Ken Hubbard to develop an inspiring online Night Sky Photography course. Take it to learn how to capture amazing sunset and night skies shots. Learn more at